Belfast Telegraph

Antrim get it spot on to floor United and retain crown

Seaton joy after goalkeeper Friel makes himself a hero

By Keith Bailie

County Antrim retained the SuperCupNI Junior trophy thanks to a dramatic penalty shoot-out win against Manchester United at the Ballymena Showgrounds.

Young goalkeeper Connor Friel went from villain to hero in the space of a few minutes.

With Antrim leading 1-0, he made an error to allow Will Fish to equalise for United with just two minutes left on the clock.

Friel turned things around moments later, making a vital save in the shoot-out to deny Owen Dodgson. Caolan McBride secured the SuperCup NI for his county, scoring the final penalty.

Long-serving Antrim boss Stefan Seaton said: "God love Connor. He took three steps forward when he didn't have to and the United lad caught him out.

"I went over to him at full-time and said, 'You're an eejit but just forget about it'. And so he did, because his penalty save was excellent.

"All the boys deserve credit. I knew they weren't going to freeze because they're such good lads."

Seaton hopes his Antrim players use this SuperCupNI success as a springboard to greater things in football.

"I'm delighted that we've won the tournament but there's a bigger picture for us. I hope these boys now push on and get contracts in England or Scotland," he said.

"We have boys on trial with Celtic, Rangers, Liverpool, Leicester and others. Hopefully playing in this final will give them a taste of what it's like to be a professional and what it's like to play in front of crowds.

"The game itself was even, a draw was a fair result. I was pleased with our goal and with our performance."

The final was not played at the Ballymena Showgrounds' main pitch, as the pitch was recently relaid. The Mid-Ulster and East Antrim Council quickly erected a temporary arena behind the main ground and with the fans close to the action, there was a good atmosphere.

United's George Walters demonstrated his talent in the 14th minute when he carved open the Antrim defence before playing the ball across the front of goal, but Michael Mellon turned it wide.

In the 23rd minute, Ross McCausland cut the ball back for Sean Paul McAllister, but the Antrim forward mishit his shot.

United should have grabbed the lead three minutes before the half-time break when Charlie Savage swung in a dangerous free-kick. George Wyatt looked certain to score at the back post, but the defender blasted the ball over.

In the 13th minute of the second half, Tigers Bay lad Dale Taylor had the ball in the net after running onto a through ball from McCausland, but the boy who was cheered on from the stands by Northern Ireland boxing hero Carl Frampton was in an offside position.

Midfielder Charlie Allen thought he'd won the game four minutes from time. He took advantage of hesitant defending from United, bursting into the area and placing a low shot beyond Joe Lawton. It was a composed finish from Allen, who showed experience beyond his tender years.

However, United's Fish equalised two minutes later. He lofted a free-kick into the area that goalkeeper Friel was unable to deal with, the ball slipping through his hands.

Incredibly, McCausland almost won the game in stoppage time. The Antrim boy burst through the United defence, only for his shot to be saved by Lawton.

In the shoot-out, Allen scored for Antrim before Friel saved Dodgson's strike.

McAllister and Fish then exchanged goals, before Sean Stewart and Ola Ibrahim did likewise. Substitute Ronan Kalla was the next to score for Antrim, before David Mayamona kept United in the game.

McBride then stepped up to the mark and scored for Antrim, winning both the game and the SuperCupNI Junior Section.

County Antrim: Friel, Stewart, Allen, Stewart, Wylie, McAllister, Carr, McCausland, Storey, Patterson, McBride. Subs: Hanna, Hoy, Quinn, Kalla, Taylor, McGuinness, Duffy

Manchester United: Lawton, Wyatt, Dodgson, Bennett, Fish, Ibrahim, Mayamona, Savage, Iqbal, Walters, Mellon. Subs: Polakowski, Kilner, Fredricson, Norkett, Alijofree, Mainoo

Referee: Ben McMaster

Belfast Telegraph


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